Inhumane Conditions in Makeshift Refugee Camps in Papua New Guinea
By admin November 10, 2017

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Following a decision in mid-August to close a detention center in Papua New Guinea (PNG) there has been a severe humanitarian crisis regarding the relocation of the many hundreds of detainees who were held there as asylum seekers. Many fear leaving the detention camps because of violence in the surrounding areas and thus refuse to leave through the detention center on Manus Island has been deemed unconstitutional by the Australian government. Furthermore, a number of the refugees have not been granted Asylum in Australia and are refusing to leave on the ground of protesting this decision.

The tension between the detainees and authorities in PNG have escalated as authorities demolished makeshift shelters as well as cut access to water storage in the detention center. Reports say that refugees in the camp are digging holes to try and access water. Asylum seekers are given until Saturday to leave to other camps in the area. Asylum seekers do have access to phones and are able to share their frustrations via online mediums such as Twitter, allowing the human rights violations, including lack of access to food and water, to be broadcasted globally. Such tweets have further exposed the squalid conditions in these camps and garnered criticism from abroad. The UN High Commissioner on refugees urged Australia to put an end to the humanitarian emergency that was ensuing.

The refugees are detained due to a hardline immigration policy established by the Australian government, which called for the detainment of any asylum seekers who arrive illegally via boat. This policy was intended to curb dangerous ocean crossing but has inadvertently caused hundreds of refugees to be held in limbo. The camp was deemed unconstitutional and subsequently shut down by the PNG government despite no permanent asylum for the refugees in Australia. Since the camp has been shut down around 600 refugees have remained in makeshifts tent, fearing that targeted violence against them from locals is far worse than the conditions in which they live. The UN criticized Australia for allowing the closure of the camps without adequate relocation solutions for the refugees. The Australian government has said that it is opening new camps on the island, but reports form current detainees there reveal that such camps do not have the necessary resources nor manpower to accommodate 600 additional detainees. Furthermore, there are not sufficiently safe means to transport the detainees to new detention centers.

Australian citizens have come together in protest of Australia’s overly stringent immigration laws as well as in support of the 600 asylum seekers. Protesters marched in Sydney and Melbourne in support of allowing the refugees to seek asylum in Australia. Australia’s taking in refugees is part of a deal with the US which will allow the latter to have enough time to vet asylum seekers before they are granted permeant relocation.

Instances in which asylum seekers are detained in inhumane conditions further perpetuates their perceived criminality and is not uncommon in the US where asylum seekers are often detained in the same apparatus as that which hold sentenced criminals. Other countries, including New Zealand and Germany, have come forward in their criticism of Australia’s treatment of refugees.

Further Reading:

Australian rally over ‘unsafe conditions’ for Manus refugees

Manus Island: Papua New Guinea police destroy refugee shelters, water storage

Closing Manus Island Center Would Hurt Refugees, Australia Is Told

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